Your patient engagement strategy will fail if staff aren’t happy

January 14, 2020

An effective patient experience starts with focusing on staff satisfaction.

An effective patient experience starts with focusing on staff satisfaction. Sound backwards? It’s not. Obviously, patients are vitally important but, the truth is: your patient engagement strategy will fail if your staff are not happy. 

Here’s why-consumerism in healthcare drives providers to focus on a patient-centered way of running the business. Various technologies push to engage patients to take a more active role in their own clinical decisions. Yet, as the popularity of those patient engagement solutions has grown, consumer dissatisfaction with healthcare has also increased. A 2018 Gallup Poll found that 73% of employed Americans say the healthcare systems is “in a state of crisis” or “has major problems.” 

At a time when frustrations and burnout are at crisis levels, it’s important that healthcare looks at the root issue. A solid foundation for success is staff and provider satisfaction-the same as for any company needing committed, engaged staff before they can provide a happy customer experience. But, instead of helping build that foundation, technology is woefully out of touch and focuses more on developing solutions that only focus on one type of patient communication instead of how it all fits together, and in a way that makes it easy for staff and providers. That’s not fixing the issue–that’s using a small bandage for a gaping wound.

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Healthcare practices continue to throw money and resources at a jumble of standalone solutions that each serve one way to communicate with patients, but the reality is even a single patient may want to communicate differently depending on the need. Those different solutions have too many log-ins, too much time lost jumping back and forth between then, too difficult to learn and they cost too much. To succeed, the right technology must put providers and staff at the center of care–being mindful of how they work, eliminating rework and redundant tasks and not having to toggle between different programs. When staff and providers are happier and more satisfied in their work and, we allow them to focus more on what got them into healthcare in the first place–helping patients. 

Managing countless voicemails; faxing and refaxing; walking across the office to get questions answered; logging in and out of six different programs just to get your job done and leaving countless notes to remind yourself what needs to be done when you get your next free minute does not make for an ideal work environment. Unfortunately, poorly designed healthcare technology is a major contributing factor to both physician and staff burnout, leading to increased risk to patients, employee turnover, and significant financial loss. Worse, according to the National Academy of Medicine in a report released last month, as many as half of the country’s doctors and nurses experience substantial symptoms of burnout

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The report outlined a list of needed changes, with “develop IT programs to reduce repetitive and redundant paperwork” being one of them. Unfortunately, many healthcare providers are already juggling a mix of different technology solutions that are not integrated, require multiple logins, duplicate work and increase time spent on administration. In fact, the report found that 60% of respondents rely on four or more different technology solutions. 

So, how do healthcare providers implement new patient engagement technologies without adding to the problem of technology-induced burnout? Avoiding unnecessary administrative burden is key to the happiness of all your employees–clinical staff as well as front and back-office staff. Here are three ways to implement new patient engagement strategies without burning out your team. 

Increasing staff satisfaction starts with understanding their needs 

Most healthcare professionals enter the field because they want to help people, not sit at a desk flipping back and forth between a tangle of software solutions. A time-motion study of physicians in ambulatory practices found that, on average, physicians spent 49% of their time working in an EHR and at their work desk. They also found the majority of after-hours work were dedicated to administrative tasks. No matter how well your EHR supports your practice, there are still so many manual tasks–answering the phone, leaving voicemails, unjamming a fax machine, scanning documents–that make it difficult to impossible to provide good customer service as part of an enhanced patient experience. 

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While administrative work in healthcare is absolutely necessary, it’s also no one’s favorite part of the job. No one got into healthcare to spend all day leaving voice mail messages. The more you can do to make your systems more efficient, the better off you’ll be. 

But don’t take my word for it–involve your staff in the process. Take the time to understand their needs and where their frustrations lie and use this knowledge to improve your systems, especially when implementing new technologies like those designed to increase patient engagement. That buy-in will pay off well when it comes time to implement. 

Make technology work for you – not against you 

When evaluating patient engagement technology (or any new technology for that matter), avoid falling into the “best of breed” trap, or a desire to have the best in every category with the most features. This leads to a patchwork of non-integrated systems that do not communicate or work together, and might even be duplicitous. It’s a type of shiny-object syndrome that ultimately won’t serve your staff or your patients. 

For example, if you offer automated appointment reminders and a patient has a question or needs to change an appointment, they should be able to securely text you and start a dialogue. Once you’ve established that communication, you can receive pictures of insurance cards ahead of time or better prepare the patient for their appointment (fasting, parking information, location) and do it without having to log into multiple systems.

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Proper employee training and onboarding support is not optional 

Ensure staff has proper training and support for any new tools that you implement and has the time available to utilize the tools properly. Of course, the tools are important, but they’re worthless if your staff doesn’t know how to use them properly (or doesn’t have the time to do so). Lack of training can also magnify technology frustrations, especially if only a handful of people are equipped to manage certain tasks.

Therefore, the level of customer support and training a technology partner provides should be a top factor when evaluating new technology. Issues and questions will inevitably come up and new staff will need to be onboarded. Healthcare providers should partner with a technology vendor that offers flexible, available customer support after implementation. That way, when staff inevitably face frustrations or run into challenges, they’re not left struggling on their own to manage technology they don’t understand. 

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After you get staff input and seek technology that puts value in their day, think of other ways you can enhance your patients’ experience with your practice. Work together to outline “patient promises” of what care patients can expect from you. Commitments like replying to inbound messages within two hours, responding to a text message within 20 minutes, greeting patients with a smile, taking two minutes to listen as they tell you about their day really makes a different in creating a personal patient experience. How are other businesses proving that they value you as a customer and what can you take from that to put into your own business? 

This is the most important thing to keep in mind: put your staff first. Think through the pain points they may face when implementing new technology and address those proactively. Because a successful patient engagement strategy requires more than the technology involved. It requires buy-in and support from happy staff members.